Chaumont’s timeless 'vie de château'
The stunning chateau at Chaumont-sur-Loire is best known for its garden. A new book by Chantal Colleu-Dumond also ventures inside the castle to reveal the royal history behind its remarkable interiors
There is no other chateau quite like it.
Its unique privilege is to be a true chateau standing on the banks of the Loire and looking out over a landscape of fields and forests that have lain virtually untouched for centuries.
The views contemplated by today’s visitors are similar to the scenery admired by Catherine de’ Medici, Diane de Poitiers, or Germaine de Staël when they came to Chaumont-sur-Loire.
Time, too, has a distinctive quality here. This place appears, more than most, to be a concentrate of history, art, architecture, and gardens, one that has been constantly reborn and has reinvented itself over the ages.
The chateau’s towers and keep have an archetypal quality that visitors can dream on.
Its very “human” scale gives the edifice the feel of a large residence that it is easy to imagine living in. This singularity accounts for much of its charm.
It has to be said that Chaumont offers a marvellous illustration of what the French call la vie de château, with its interior decoration, the elegance of its furniture, its splendid hangings, its remarkable stained glass, and the luxury of its stables and carriages.
It offers extensive views of wide, sandy paths and perspectives over the river and copses of trees landscaped by Henri Duchêne (1841–1902), as well as some extraordinary cedars.
All of which makes visitors want to give themselves up to the joy of strolling around, to reliving childhood moments: the conversation between the sky, the earth, the river, and the chateau seems to have been going for ever.
The charm of Chaumont is something that is felt more than it is articulated or defined.
THE DE’ MEDICI INFLUENCE
In 1550 Catherine de’ Medici (1519–1589), the wife of Henry II of France (1519–1559), acquired the estate, which she used as a hunting lodge and a resting place on her journeys between the châteaux of Blois and Amboise.
She relinquished the chateau in 1560 as a concession to Diane de Poitiers (1499–1566), Henry II’s favourite and her great rival at court, who had been made to return the Château de Chenonceau to the crown after the king’s death.
Diane now ordered the works that gave Chaumont the appearance we know today. In particular, her modernization completed the chemins de ronde of the gatehouse, or châtelet, and the Saint-Nicolas Tower.
The masons also dotted their work with Diane’s emblems of bows and quivers, hunting horns, and crescent moons.
Originally a state bedroom, the Catherine de’ Medici Room, the second room in the museum section of the residence of the Prince and Princesse de Broglie, displays the oldest tapestry in the chateau collection.
Woven in Tournai in the late fifteenth century, The Story of Perseus and Pegasus hangs close to a late sixteenth-century tapestry from Flanders, The Story of David and Abigail.
Recent acquisitions by the Domain recreate the atmosphere of the late nineteenth century, which was itself an attempt to evoke the bedroom of Catherine de’ Medici, such was that period’s reverence for the Renaissance.
That is why we find here a remarkable four-poster bed in the style of Henry II – but from the nineteenth century – richly sculpted with plant figures, including garlands of leaves and fruits.
Mermaids in half-relief, an Amazon, and a warrior decorate its bedposts.
A sixteenth-century wedding chest with a convex top and panels separated by pilasters, bought by the Princesse de Broglie, is another of the remarkable pieces of furniture recently put back into the bedchamber known colloquially as “Catherine’s Room.”
In the room can be seen a sixteenth-century throne decorated with an arch, underneath which is a heron swallowing an eel and two unicorns holding a shield.
Nearby is a fifteenth-century armoire showing, on its top part, the three theological virtues – faith, hope, and charity – and the four seasons, while the lower part depicts the five senses.
A full-length portrait of Catherine de’ Medici, a nineteenth-century copy of an original painting in the Palatine Gallery at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, decorates these apartments, along with a half-profile portrait of the queen in mourning, inspired by a painting by François Clouet (c. 1510–1572).
Originally a dining room, this room was transformed into a library by the de Broglie family.
The princely couple also called it their “autumn salon.” Sadly, the room was damaged by fire in 1957.
It was then refitted with furniture from the Napoleon III period, including a particularly rare and original armchair called the “indiscreet,” which allowed three people to converse together.
The large tapestry here represents The Triumphal Entrance of Alexander into the City of Babylon, while two others depict The Meeting of Porus and Alexander and The Submission of the Family of Darius.
Get the look
Browse the French high street or search online to create your own version of the De’ Medici boudoir and the elegant library at Chaumont... Prices and availability are correct at the time of going to press.
Nothing says ‘regal repose’ quite like a four-poster bed (lit à baldaquin).
This King Size Preston bed, 230cm high.
It is available in mahogany and walnut or decorated with gold leaf.
€1,049 from www.meubledestyle.fr
Lend your reading area some country chic with a modern take (1950s) on the faded green velvet armchairs (fauteuils) seen in Chaumont’s library.
This ‘green imperial’ Scott model costs €599 from www.made.com
A coffre you can’t refuse
A sturdy blanket or linen box (coffre à linge) is a great way to keep your bedroom tidy and stylish at the same time.
This mango wood box from Eminza measures 71x42x41cm and weighs 16.9kg.
Price €169. www.eminza.com